For today’s post, I’m going to put on my personal trainer hat.  What would you say are the key components to a great workout? Great exercises, lots of sweat, super high intensity, being sore the next day? Sure, but this answer doesn’t help most people.

I want to give you the nitty-gritty details of a great workout, step by step. After you read this post you’ll have the tools you need to create your own great and effective workouts. Plus you can signup for a FREE 30-Day Challenge through iTrainerworkouts.com.

The 8 Key Components to a Great Workout:

  • Warm-Up
  • Proper Exercise Form
  • Sets
  • Intensity
  • Repetitions
  • Rest
  • Weight
  • Stretching

To many this list is obvious, but dig a little deeper with me. Do you ever make it to the gym just happy you’re there, but don’t have a clue what your workout should look like. Even as a trainer, I find myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit! For a great workout, we need to show up knowing exactly what we will be doing for the workout to be the most effective. Let’s walk through this simple workout design.

Warm Up!

If you only remember one thing about this post, remember to warm up before you begin your workout. A warm up does not need to be complicated or long, but it does need to fit the exercises you are going to perform. For example, when I play racquetball with my buddy I’ll get on the treadmill or elliptical, then I’ll go into the weights area and do a few body weight squats, some sit-ups, and a few pushups. Somewhere in the range of 5-10 minutes is all that is needed for most warm ups.

These exercises warm up the specific muscles I will be using for racquetball. Squats and cardio warm up my legs, pushups warm up my shoulders and core, and the sit-ups warm up my core as well. When I prepare my body for the high intensity of playing, this increases my performance and decreases my chances of injury. When you warm up, do the same, find exercises that match the motions of your planned workout.

Proper Exercise Form

The best way to prevent injury and get a great workout is by using proper exercise form. I won’t be able to address all exercises and their proper form, but I do want to touch on 3 major exercises. Starting with squats.

Squats are a staple in any workout program and when done properly, they are excellent for lower body strength and endurance. I want to highlight two key pieces to proper squatting. 1) When you squat your knees should not be farther out than your toes. 2) With few exceptions, you should go no less than 90 degrees at your knee or hips.

The next exercise is pushups. With pushups, there are two things to do to keep proper form. 1) Your head and spine should stay aligned so that you are not dropping your head too low or too high, but it is kept in a neutral position. 2) Your hips should be high enough so that you are not arching your back at any point during the pushup.

Last is the sit-up. Again the focus is on the neck and spine. 1) Keep your head aligned with your spine and make sure to avoid pulling on your head as you do sit-ups. 2)  Keep your feet (not legs) flat on the floor and raise up starting the motion at your low back without pulling on your head. 3) If you have someone hold your feet down, it is not a bad thing, you just now changed the focus to your hip flexors more.

The important part of each of these exercises and all others is proper spinal alignment. Keep you head and spine “stacked” on top of each other. Whether your sitting, standing or laying this is vital to proper form. When proper exercise form is followed, performing exercise becomes safer and more effective. The next key component of a great workout is the number of sets you perform.

Sets

Sets are tricky, but a great rule of thumb for general workouts, is 3 sets for large muscle groups and 2 for smaller muscle groups, per exercise performed. This helps limit overtraining with the various repetition amounts in a workout. I have found in my training, 3-4 exercises per large muscle group and 2-3 exercises per small muscle group is a good range to work within. Giving a total of 15 to 21 sets in the workout.

When you plug your preferred style of repetitions into this formula it also allows for versatility. Generally, you can adjust the length of your workout ranging from 30 minutes to 60 minutes following these basic rules. It is important to note, this does not include your warm up or stretching. Now we move to repetitions.

Repetitions

More reps are better, err… less reps are better, wait, it depends. And it does matter how many reps you do. The answer to the reps question has to do with your goals. Reps are at the center of your workout and determine where your workout will take you. The number of reps you do per set focuses your workout into 3 different categories. Strength, power, or endurance. When these recommendations are followed great results are guaranteed. I recommend the following rep ranges: 4-6 for strength gain, 12-15 for power, and 20-25 for endurance.

If you are looking to increase strength the rep range of 4-6 per set is the right choice. If you are looking to tone and increase power (speed and strength together), a rep range of 12-15 is the right choice. Finally, if you are looking to increase muscle endurance or for general fitness, a rep range of 20-25 is the right choice. When you combine this approach with proper intensity and volume of sets, you will begin to see big changes.

Intensity

These changes are closely tied to intensity and rest. But first, let’s look at intensity. What does intensity even mean? Intensity has to do with heart rate and how much effort is put into your last reps of each set. For example, the last reps of every exercise you do should be almost impossible to complete (assuming you still maintain proper form). Followed by the right amount of rest to bring your heart rate to the desired range, based on your goals. These heart rates are 105 beats per minute (bpm) for strength gain, 115 bpm for power, and 125 bpm for endurance.

Combining the proper set and rep ranges with the matching intensity and rest times is what moves a workout from okay to great. Let’s now look at what those rest times should look like and how rest impacts your body’s systems.

 

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Rest

Rest plays a key role in determining how your body will be affected by all the sets and reps you are performing. The less rest and higher your heart rate, the more impact on your cardiovascular system (endurance). The more rest and higher your heart rate, the more impact on your muscular system (strength gain). For toning and increasing power rest and heart rate would be between these two ranges. Take a look at the list below for a quick overview of what this looks like practically.

The rest ranges that fit the repetition ranges are as follows:

  • Strength Gain (4-6 reps) = 1-3 minutes rest
  • Tone and Power (12-15 reps) = 30-45 seconds
  • Endurance (20-25 reps) = 15-30 seconds

When you keep your rest and reps within these ranges you will be able to stay on track for your goals and continue to see results. The next component that we need to consider in this formula is the amount of weight you use.

Weight

Weight is about picking the right amount to fit your reps and sets template. This is where we go back to the last 1-2 reps, in every set you perform, should be almost impossible to complete. Approaching the weight in this way provides great intensity, a natural way to know when to raise and lower weight, and prevents injury. Very simple, yet effective.

Stretching

Lastly, we have stretching. Basic stretching after a workout is of great importance to help your muscles return to the proper length and get blood flowing for the muscle repair process. Just like the warm up, stretching should last about 5-10 minutes and should target the muscles that were primarily used during exercise. Generally, stretching for 30 seconds per muscle is a good rule of thumb. Finally, stretching helps you to reset your mind from your workout. Especially when the workout or competition was very intense.

Don’t neglect the book ends of your workout. The long-term impact of warming up and stretching is worth the extra 10-20 minutes it will take.

Putting All 8 Components Together

When you tie all 8 components together you create an amazingly effective exercise program. Combined with proper diet and consistency these 8 components will guarantee improved health and fitness. Check out the 30-Day Challenge for a professionally designed program that combines each of these components into a simple 30 Day plan that you can implement today. The challenge is FREE for a limited time only.

Please comment or ask questions below!